Victims of the 1987 King’s Cross fire would be astonished to see Grenfell enquiry with its private rooms, quiet areas and a prayer room, counselling and NHS support. Morning sessions stop to allow Muslim prayer, even the location was changed after complaints that survivors could not endure the trauma of tube travel.
British law, which ignores the mutilation of immigrant children, corporal punishment in Madrassas, gender-based abortion, and until this week forced marriage, is obviously changing to ‘accommodate diversity.’
The pious nature of the inquest shows how the fundamentals of our society are being changed. The desire for inclusiveness now affects not just the law, but education and even our concept of knowledge. Instead of pursuing Value we now preoccupied with some notional ‘equality.’
Oxford University is under attack for not accommodating more children from ethnic minorities, even though many of them are stuck in failing schools.
Black, mixed race and Pakistani students are still twenty percent less likely than whites children to achieve five or more GCSE A* – C grades including English and Maths, according to a Dept of Education report, 2013.The performance of pupils from eastern Europe has also declined. Their achievements are now similar to the previous group, while white working- class boys, who Oxford is also supposed to attract, are scraping along the very bottom.
The culture of mass accommodation has led to the downgrading of exams, desperate box ticking and academic decline hardly disguised by grade-inflation. In further education, under educated and skilled students can take ‘cod’ degree courses, particularly in the arts which offer them nothing.
Acceptance of cod education, in fact our perverse relish for the post-modernism relish for trash instead of art, was displayed by the BBC this week in its Radio 4 programme, ‘With Great Pleasure.’ Once a soothing corner or Sunday night listening. It was first broadcast in 1970 with Dr Horace King, the first Labour MP to become Speaker of the House of Commons, presenting his life time’s choice of verse, prose, and music. He was followed by Union leader Jack Dash, Enoch Powell, Siobhan McKenna and Laurens van der Post.
This week’s guest was Sabrina Mahfouz, a young British, Egyptian, Guyanese writer described by the BBC as ‘a Renaissance woman.’ Her Renaissance has nothing to do with re-evaluating knowledge, more about getting by without any, which she has done exceptionally well, with huge opportunities continually offered her.
She decided to become an archaeologist and entered University College London despite knowing nothing about the subject.
‘It was to do with science,’ she wailed. ‘I’m not sure why nobody told me. I hated digging.’
She dropped out. ‘I really like books,’ she explained. She switched to Eng. Lit. but didn’t like the women in the novels. Next, she was accepted for a degree at SOAS in Politics & Diplomacy.
‘I wanted to work for the UN,’ she said, ‘that sort of thing.’
She was immediately fast streamed into the Ministry of Defence but told us, ‘I just left.’
She went to the theatre for the first time, and at the Royal Court saw black writer debbie tucker green’s (lower case) play ‘Random,’ about a stabbing in south London, delivered in Caribbean patois.
‘It changed my life,’ she said. She decided to try writing and hit the zeitgeist.
Like tucker green, there followed a slew of awards. Since 2010 she’s won the Westminster Prize for New Playwrights, been invited to New York with the Old Vic TS Eliot exchange program, won a Sky Arts Scholarship, been published by Bloomsbury, commissioned by the National Theatre, Paynes Plough theatre group produced her piece on Garage Music, she’s playwright in residence at the Bush Theatre, poet in Residence at Cape Farewell, a ‘cultural response to climate change,’ at the South bank, a ‘Writer at Liberty’ the human rights group, and a ‘Global Shaper’ with the World Economic Forum.
She finished giving us ‘great pleasure,’ with a rap poem by her almost equally lucky Cypriot boyfriend, Anthony Anaxagorou, winner of the London Mayor’s ‘Poetry Slam.’ A competition organised by the poetry society, ‘before a loud and voluble audience,’ as part of Sadiq Khan’s ‘Respect’ festival, celebrating multi-culturalism.
I sipped my cocoa listening to his rap, ‘The Master’s Revenge’ which attributed most European culture to the influence of black music, even the discovery of the double-helix.
‘Jamaica is a major part of the narrative track,’ he stormed, and he could be right. The celebrated couple adore Garage and Grime music the way Renaissance men once revered the laws of perspective. They’ve no need for the old learning. Books themselves are now under threat as traditional cultural capital is junked and aesthetic value sacrificed for the notion of ‘community.’
It’s a mistake to think that libraries are closing. Forty new ones opened in 2012. Like public enquiries and further education, they keep the name but are a totally new brand; crystallised ziggurats such as the library in Seattle represent the desire of cities to be seen as globalised hubs containing cohesive communities. They have almost nothing to do with readers exploring the canon of European knowledge.
Newcastle library, a steel and glass box with 180 seat ‘performance space,’ opened in 2009. ‘Libraries were once temples to knowledge and you had to be a member of that religion to gain entrance,’ said City Librarian Tony Durcan in a recent BBC programme called, ‘The Library Returns.’
‘The old buildings were beautiful but people were afraid to enter them. We want them transparent so as you walk past you can see people just like you inside them.’
‘The purpose has changed from a hush environment to a buzz environment,’ said architect Nigel Tonks. ‘From quiet academic space to community living room.’
His company, Arup, is behind the new library and ‘performance space’ at Canada Water, an inverted bronze and aluminium pyramid. He described, ‘heavy stone,’ as off putting to the public, apparently it scares them off with its suggestion of our past culture.
In 2013 Dutch architect, Francine Houben designed the new £188 million Library of Birmingham, a pile of concrete boxes wrapped in circles of aluminium.
‘I wanted a material from the 21st century,’ she said, ‘which people would recognise.’
She claims to have turned her boxes into a ‘people’s palace.’ Her de-constructed venue represents ‘community’ rather than any exploration of value.
But these urban projects are also about encouraging the public to move away from their old culture. BBC reporter Jonathan Glancey urged listeners to ‘forget about quiet study,’ libraries are about ‘taking the whole family out for the day to make a noise.’
Loud and voluble is now the cultural norm. Like Tate Modern, these vast glass and steel hubs are only considered a success if they get massive foot-fall. Though still called libraries, any reference section, renamed the ‘mixing chamber,’ will only occupy a small part. There will be ‘living space,’ places for ‘partnering’ with social services, rooms for what is now called, ‘gaming,’ where children taught with emojis can use play-stations rather than browse through books. Of course, there has to be music, that ‘major part of the narrative track,’ with spaces for streaming your favourites and even, in the new library in Delft, a non-digital piano freely available. No anxious spinster in wing glasses with be there to shush you; there will be no staff.
Everyone interviewed spoke about, ‘community engagement,’ as the chief reason for libraries.
‘As I build it I think of the little boy from India and Pakistan, walking on the streets of Birmingham,’ said Houben, ‘saying to his father, I want to go in there.’
He probably can’t read well in English but that doesn’t matter as our culture will change to accommodate him with sparkly buildings where he can game and stream. It’s not his fault that it’s becoming increasingly unrecognisable to those of us who once studied our cherished books in silence.[pullquote]
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